It’s not hard to argue that “man’s” best friend, contrary to popular opinion, is the mind… not a dog. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are great—except for Pete… to cold hell with Pete… —but where would we be without those inflated squishy balls of rumination we call brains? Rolling around in the mud, eating stuff indiscriminately, staring for long hours into little illuminated boxes… oh my.
Anyway, our brains are great, but they still have a lot of flaws. A serious one of these flaws involves whatever drives a person to watch The Dr. Oz show, but nastier still is the penchant for overlooking possibilities that don’t exactly line up with one’s desired world view. I know, it’s a bummer that occasionally, just occasionally what you like doesn’t align itself perfectly with the truth. Tarnation! However, thankfully, there are these awesome tools we’ve come up with, by the name of ‘skepticism’ and ‘the scientific method.’ These tools help us both identify alternative possibilities, as well as systematically examine them in a way that encourages the self-defeating aspects of our gooey little noggins to take a power nap while performing some critical thought.
By overcoming the individual’s base desire to manipulative themselves, humankind has propelled itself through the ages with an increased understanding of itself and the world around it. Very few of these accomplishments, in comparison, can be chalked up to people driven by desire, not bothering to fact-check; complex layers of understanding are just not likely to be achieved in this way. The very second a person fails to question a belief upon opportunity, whether it’s in regards to a set of data, the motivations of a public figure or an interpretation of loosely connected events, they lose most, if not all hope in ever coming to a rational conclusion. This also can result in the formation of conspiracy theories, because when there are no rules to govern the free connection of events, any number of nonsensical connections can be made between any number of circumstances.
So, if you’re not at least giving it the old college try, then why bother thinking at all? There’s an app for that, I’m sure.
The fact is, skepticism has a negative reputation and is often thought of as something that tears things down—but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When combined with empathy, a regular skeptical practice can absolutely change a person’s life, as well as the world around them in very positive ways. But it’s not easy—it requires a strong constitution and an immense amount of discipline. Unfortunately, that’s also why not a lot of people utilize it in their everyday lives—it’s hard to catch yourself not vetting something before you back it up, such as an anti-GMO piece of Facebook imagery. But imagine what happens when even a single instance of this is echoed by millions of people, multiple times a day, every day. You know all of that gridlock experienced when it comes to getting anything done on a large scale? Now you know why. The world is awash with false dichotomies created by the easy acceptance of false or misleading information.
But, well, it’s human nature, and up to the individual to be responsible for the way their visions of the world affect others. There’s nothing to be gained from those easy roads where we settle on what we want things to be, rather than working out what they actually are. And I don’t believe that many of us would consciously admit to wanting to go down them.
If you’d like to learn more, here’s a fantastic place to start: www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moment-youth/201206/the-art-positive-skepticism.
By Johnny Beaver